Essentials of Antagonist Training for Climbers

Lauren Abernathy pull-up

Nearly red in the face, I pulled my chin, a 53lb kettle bell, a 10lb plate, and my harness up high enough to call the whole thing a pull-up. My personal record for a one rep max for a pull-up went up: bodyweight plus 63lbs. My bench press on the other hand was less than stellar, 5 reps at 75% of my bodyweight was all I could muster.

There are not many sports that rely so heavily on pulling strength, but climbing is one of them. As as you might be able to pull, if you cannot push, there is trouble ahead. Enter antagonist training.

Despite what you might have heard, antagonist training is not captain hook working to improve his sword-fighting. It is not a buzz word you use to describe doing whatever exercises please you at the end of a climbing session either. But if not these things, what is antagonist training? And how can we use it to be stronger and prevent injury?

Let’s start with the basics.

In every movement, there is a prime mover and an antagonist. A simple example is the motion of a bicep curl. The bicep is the prime mover, the tricep is the antagonist. Simple enough.

Now, let’s complicate things. I really like how Dr. Jared Vagy explained this in his blog post on the topic, so I will steal a page from his book in my explanation.

Primer Movers and Antagonists in Climbing

In climbing, we are mostly pulling. So when you hear the word antagonist training in the context of climbing, you should think “pushing”.

This is not to say that we do not push in climbing. Sometimes, we do have to mantle or push against holds for stabilization. At which point, the script is flipped between the prime movers and the antagonists. However, the ratio of pulling to pushing in climbing is clearly skewed towards pulling. With that, we need to focus our antagonist efforts towards balancing out all the pulling we do.

For years we programmed push-ups and overhead presses as injury-proofing antagonist movements, but as our involvement with competition climbers has advanced, we are seeing a greater and greater need for good total body strength to deal with the specific demands of the sport.

Unstoppable Force pg. 177

What the Research Says

Though I was not able to find extensive research explicitly relating antagonist strength ratio to injury risk or athletic performance, there are a few studies that I want to discuss here.

Measuring Antagonist Strength Ratios in Healthy Adults

In one study, 180 healthy and active adults (69 males, 111 females) aged 18 to 45 were tested to determine their pulling to pushing ratio. This was done by measuring the number of repetitions for push-ups and a modified pull-ups (shown below). On average the push:pull ratios were 1.57:1 and 2.72:1 for men and women, respectively.

Photo as shown in the aforementioned research article. Modified pull-up.

This study was done to show a benchmark for injury-free, active adults. I would be curious on the outcomes of this study if it were conducted with a population of climbers. Though we do not have this information, we do have a study on a different group of athletes: elite rugby players. Do you think they will be just as push-dominant as the recreationaly active adults? You might be surprised.

The Rugby Players

In another study of 42 elite male rugby players who regularly train both weighted pull-ups and bench presses were studied. For as much pushing as these athletes do in their sport, the average push:pull ratio between their one rep max (1RM) bench press and their 1RM pull-up came out to be nearly 1:1. Though I am not a male rugby player, this does give me some information to infer as a climber. If these push-centric athletes are managing a 1:1 ratio in their sport, perhaps climbers should try for the same. However, research is not everything. If this does not speak to you, perhaps a coach with decades of practical experience will.

A Coach’s Recommendation

In Unstoppable Force, written by Charlie Manganello and Steve Bechtel, Steve calls out the risk of imbalances in our antagonist strength.

We downplay the need for pressing strength in climbing, but strong pressing muscles – the ones we to push loads away from the body in training – are fundamental to good movement, joint stability, and continued progress in our pulling strength.

Unstoppable Force pg. 63.

Steve and Charlie go on to advise that if you cannot do three reps of a bench press at bodyweight, you may be holding back your pulling strength.

Why it Matters

Perhaps if you have just started climbing, this may seem like absolutely too much information. However, if you are a year or two in and you have done nothing but climb 2-4 days a week, it may be time to take a look in the mirror to see if you are overdue for some antagonist work. No guarantees, but it may grant you some strength and injury prevention in the long haul. Like Steve Bechtel says “strength is safety.” So how can you tell if you are overdue for some opposition training? Why not give yourself an assessment?

A Quick and Dirty Push to Pull Ratio Assessment

Here’s a little assessment you could give yourself. Ideally, perform it before climbing, but after warming up so you are not fatigued. Additionally, try to take at least a full day of rest between each of these assessments.

Day 1: Upper Body Endurance

  • Perform as many push-ups as you can do in one set. Record the total. Make sure you are doing real push-ups, not the ones where your arms are a thousand miles from your sides and your ass is in the air. If you cannot do a push-up, perform an incline push-up on a bench instead.
  • Rest 3-5 minutes
  • Record as many pull-ups as you can do in one set. If you cannot do a pull-up, use a band or a chair to remove resistance from the bar. Record the total number of pull-ups you can do. Do not kip, swing, or cheat between reps. Do them well and do them right.

Day 2: Maximal Upper Body Strength

  • Find your one rep max for the bench press. If you don’t know how to bench, I suggest finding a trusted friend to teach you and help to spot you. Make sure to warm-up and work up to finding your 1RM (with a spotter or safety bars). If you don’t want to load up all the way to a 1RM, I recommend finding your 2-3 rep max and using a calculator to predict your 1RM instead. Make sure you rest for at least 3 minutes between sets.
  • Rest for 3-5 minutes before moving onto the 1RM pull-up.
  • Find your one rep max for the pull-up. Warm up for this as well. Do a few bodyweight pull-ups. Start adding weight, continue adding until you reach your one rep max. Make sure you rest for at least 3 minutes between sets. Record your 1RM.

Disclaimer: I am not demanding that you do this, perform at your own risk and make sure that you are not putting yourself in harm’s way by partaking in the above. And don’t blame me if you find that you are sore the day after!

Let me know your Assessment Results!

If you decide to take this assessment, shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com and let me know how it went!

This is part one in a series. In the next installment, I will tackle my favorite antagonist exercises and provide tips on working them into your climbing schedule. Make sure to subscribe to my monthly email list to stay up to date when the next post comes out! You can also stay up to date by following me on Instagram.

Resources

Upper Body Push and Pull Strength Ratio in Recreationally Active Adults

Push to Pull Ratio in Elite Rugby Players

Unstoppable Force: Strength Training for Climbing

The Climbing Doctor: Train Antagonist Strength for Climbing

Running and Climbing Part 1: Can Running Help your Climbing?

girl running

My friend Shannon stumbled into the apartment dripping in sweat and red in the face. She had just finished watching Brave Heart. But unlike most people who sweat while watching television, Shannon was perspiring from running her way through a three hour Mel Gibson classic. You see, Shannon likes to run. This emotion is a complete mystery to me, though I understand that many would find my enjoyment of hanging by my fingertips on small bits of plastic equally as mystifying.

Despite my displeasure with running, I know there are many of you who find it very enjoyable. So the question I want to dig into here is how running and climbing do or do not cooperate in the pursuit of making you a better climber. I have gathered a variety of research, opinions, and angles to answer the big question: can running really help your climbing?

There is a lot to cover, so this post will be broken up into at least two parts.
With that, let’s start with our first conundrum: the limitations of time.

24 Hours in a Day

The first consideration to make is that there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a year. So if you are going to spend time running, but you only have a few hours per week to train, think carefully about how you spend your time. It is likely that spending more time climbing is going to make you better at climbing. (See the rule of 75/25). As Steve Bechtel so famously said:

“Running for climbing is as important as climbing is for running. You can see how ludicrous that sounds. If you want to get better at the Boston Marathon you should hit the rock gym? No.”

Steve Bechtel – Training Beta Episode 7

We’ll get into that a bit more later, but this is certainly a point of view worth considering.

You can’t be good at everything all the time

Do you ever notice that in your life, when you try to be good at your job, be a good friend, train really hard for climbing, eat healthy, manage your money responsibly, raise your kids, make regular dentist appointments, take showers – you end up with a mediocre performance in one of these areas? ( For reference, I’m super shitty at the dentist appointments and the showers – oh well). Apply the same concept to climbing. If you are trying to send your absolute hardest and do your first marathon in the same couple of months, both pursuits will end in sub-maximal performance.

We have a limited amount of adaptation potential and how hard you push in all of these different directions limits how much you can push in other directions.

Steve Bechtel – Power Company Climbing Podcast Episode 6

Bottom Line
If you want to be the best climber you can be, you can’t be the best runner you can be at the same time.

running and climbing meme
An actual quote from my buddy Shannon, turned into a meme, of course!

The Deal with Endurance

If you are an avid runner and you have not left this blog post yet, I have good news. There is a perspective among trainers that supports the claim that running can help improve your climbing. But before we get into that, let’s define a few terms:
aerobic energy system, Adenosine triphosphate, and VO2 Max.

Aerobic Energy System

Here’s a quick and dirty definition of the aerobic energy system if you are not familiar. Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”. The aerobic energy system is the body’s energy production pathway that uses oxygen. This system is characterized by long-term energy output at relatively low intensities e.g. efforts lasting longer than 5 minutes like rowing, cycling, running over long distances. (see TeachPE.Com)

Check out the video below if you want a 2 minute explanation of the aerobic energy system.

Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP)

For the purposes of this article, all you need to know is that Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the fuel your muscles need to contract in order to produce movement.
ATP is to our muscles as diesel is to a semi truck. If you want to read more about this complex organic molecule, see here.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max, or Maximal Volume of oxygen is a measure of the amount of oxygen and individual can use during intense exercise. It is measured in volume of oxygen that can be consumed per mass of body weight over time. It is a general measurement used to determine aerobic fitness – or the capacity of your aerobic energy system.

Average Range of VO2 Max: 30-40 mL of oxygen per kg per minute
Lance Armstrong’s VO2 Max: 85mL of oxygen per kg per minute
Advanced Climbers (5.12 and Beyond): 45-50mL of oxygen per kg per minute

The Research

Phil Watts, an original gangster of climbing research, did a study to investigate the oxygen consumption of climbers.

The method: Subjects were set to climb moderate terrain (80 degree slab and 102 degree slightly overhanging). A critique of the study, as pointed out by Eric Horst in his podcast, was that the climbers were not very experienced and the routes were not very challenging.

The result: Climbers showed a VO2 max consumption of 30 mL/kg per minute – the average VO2 Max for the American Couch Potato. Form this, Watts determined that climbing is not an exceptional cardiovascular challenge.
(See Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20 )

But no so fast, Phil. We can’t toss out our running shoes yet. In a later 2003 paper, Watts provided an update. In his 2003 paper, the maximal oxygen consumption of climbers was studied again. This time, VO2 Max during difficult efforts was reported to be much higher, with climbers demonstrating maximal oxygen consumption at upwards of 43-50 ml/kg-min during efforts on difficult and steep terrain. This is a far cry from the results of the original study.

From this we can determine that during our hardest ascents, our aerobic energy system is certainly put to the test. In Eric Horst’s review of the subject, he posits that upwards of 50% of our energy production (ATP production) comes from the aerobic energy pathway. Heretofore, a well-trained aerobic energy system is critical to climbing hard. (See Phil’s 2003 research paper)

The Verdict
A well-trained aerobic energy system is critical to climbing hard.

Where Everyone Agrees on Aerobic Fitness

Although the methods of how best to train the aerobic energy system as a climber are somewhat controversial, most trainers generally agree on the benefits of being an aerobically fit athlete.

“More aerobically fit climbers via generalized aerobic training recovered faster at rests on routes and between boulder problems.”

Eric Horst Training for Climbing Podcast Episode 20

There is an accord that aerobic fitness is important to climbing and the research agrees too. Practically speaking, if the thirty minute hike to the crag with the rope on your back saps your energy for the day, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than the sub-optimal rest hold on your project. The controversy comes in when we discuss how to obtain aerobic fitness: in a specific or generalized way.

Click here for Part 2 of the Running and Climbing Series:
General vs. Sport Specific Endurance

Do you enjoy running? Do you hate it? Are you thinking about incorporating it into your training? Leave a note or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com, I would love to hear from you and discuss.

Make sure to follow me on Instagram, or Facebook, or even subscribe to my newsletter to be notified when the next post comes out!

Resources

Teach PE: Aerobic Energy System

Study of VO2 Max in Various Populations

Performance Analysis of Adam Ondra on Silence (5.15d/8c)

Top End Sports: VO2 Max Norms

Sports Med: The Physiology of Sport Rock Climbing

Super, Sure, but not More than Human: NY Times on Lance Armstrong

VO2 Max Measurements from Virginia.edu

Physiology of Difficult Rock Climbing by Phil Watts

Never Quitting Climbing: People Might be Lame but You Don’t Have to Be

“You’ll quit climbing. You won’t have time with this job.” These words were spoken to me in the first week of my first job coming out of college.

After about a month there, chances were good that I might become depressed and that being an adult was going to be terrible. I was perplexed that I had worked so hard for the past four years earning my engineering degree to end up having no time to do any of the things I actually gave a shit about.

Fortunately, the original prophecy did not come true. I climbed all over the country in my first year out adulthood. I drove an hour to the climbing gym from work twice a week to train. I got up at 4:30 during the week to get on my hangboard before work.

Maybe the baseline for most adults and their hobbies is that they let them slip away as they get older and fatter and they decide that trying to keep pursuing what they love is too much work. But I can’t see myself doing that.

About a year after that, the company moved me to New York. The job had better hours and I picked the closest apartment to the climbing gym. These were well-designed life improvements.

But even after moving from the Midwest to the East Coast, the same sour attitude prevailed. One of my colleague said to me “Well you can’t just go climbing and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every weekend forever. You’ll have to grow up sometime.”

But why? Why is it childish to do what you love? Why is it childish to eat PB&J? Why is it immature to pursue what makes you happy? And why is it your business anyway?

The truth is that I don’t really know. Sometimes the way people let their lives go by without doing anything that makes them happy is really depressing. When I ask people on Monday what they did over the weekend, half the time they don’t even remember.

Climbing is a way to make sure that I’m stoked about something. That I’m going on adventures. That I’m outside laughing my ass off with my friends. That I’m lying in a tent terrified that I’m going to get eaten by a grizzly bear. That I’m hanging 60 feet up on a wall relying on my fingertips. That I don’t become boring, unhealthy, and submissive to a life that I don’t really like that much.

And yeah – life is never going to be perfect. I know that I am privileged to have my limbs intact and to have a job that pays me well and to have great friends and family who support me skipping holidays to screw around on exotic cliff faces. No matter what, I’m never going to squelch my sense of adventure because of the stupid things people say to me. If you’re out there doing something you think is awesome, then keep on doing it. Sometimes it seems like 98% of people don’t even know what they think is awesome anyway – and they certainly aren’t pursuing it.

If you find something that makes you so psyched you can’t stop thinking about it, then latch on to that and never let go. You don’t ever have to quit climbing if you don’t want to.

Winning the Head Games: Climbing with Anxiety

“You’re an adrenaline junkie.” I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. Your aunt says it to you when you bring up your latest adventure. It is often said and, I believe, seldom true.

Deep water solo Mallorca Lauren Abernathy

Me downclimbing to the start of a route on my deep water solo trip to Mallorca, Spain.
Photo by Adam Pernikar.
Lauren Abernathy Backflip skiing

Me backflipping a rock booter after getting heartily amped up by friends and onlookers in Lake Louise, BC. Photo by Tim Spanagel.

I am not an Adrenaline Junkie

For me this label of “adrenaline junkie” is not quite right. Personally, I do not seek out an adrenaline rush, but it happens to be the byproduct of the activities I find most enjoyable. The truth is, for me at least, the fear and anxiety are not desirable at all. These are emotions that I deal with fairly regularly—on an almost daily basis, actually–and in situations that do not traditionally merit panic at all.

Lauren Abernathy Deep Water Solo Mallorca

Me fighting the head games as I progressed upwards on a deep water solo route in Mallorca, Spain. Photo by Adam Pernikar.

Like many individuals, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. Things that are categorized as mundane for others have sent me into panic attacks and have left me near-catatonic states. A particularly interesting incident of this occurred the night before a job interview a few years back.

Don’t Panic, it’s just a Parking Garage

The company had paid for a rental car and a nice hotel for me to stay in for my travels to the on site interview. I was so overcome with anxiety that I could not park the car. Sitting in the middle of the garage at midnight, I was bawling my eyes out and hyperventilating. I was too afraid to park the Jeep Grand Cherokee in one of the tiny parking spots available to me. Eventually, I was able to squeeze the car in somewhere, but between the interview anxiety and coming down from the panic attack, I barely slept at all that night.

For some people parking a rental car in a parking garage is hardly memorable. For me, it can mean an evening destroyed and a good night’s sleep ruined. It can be a terrible, shameful memory for years to come. This might sound pretty crazy, especially to someone without anxiety. I feel pretty nuts even describing this situation, but it is what it is.

Crazy Enough to Keep Climbing

So imagine this same individual who can barely handle parking a nice car in a parking garage and put them 10 feet above the bolt on the sharp end. Let’s put them one hundred feet up a rock face and see how they manage.

If a parking garage can cause me to have a panic attack, then it seems like I’ve picked a pretty ridiculous pastime, don’t you think?

I agree. It’s crazy, but climbing is a sport I’ve fallen in love with and I do not plan to let a bit of generalized anxiety disorder keep me from a good time. I want everyone to know that any fears of heights, falling, whatever it is, can be resolved. If you are afraid now, you can fix it. I have come a long way since I started climbing and you certainly can too.

Lauren Abernathy Rumney NH

Me getting introspective on a break from working a project in Rumney, NH. The crowds were really getting in my head that day.

The “Personal Cry Line”

Alpine environments have what is referred to as a tree line. This is a height at which trees are no longer able to grow. I used to have what I referred to as a “personal cry line” a height at which the tears would start flowing. No matter the style–top rope or sport or whatever, at about 80 feet off the deck you could almost guarantee that I was on the wall crying. It did not matter how hard the route, what the weather was like, or how safe I truly was. Once I was too high up, I was in a silent, tearful, private hell.

Why would you keep doing that to yourself? Do you enjoy emotional turmoil? Isn’t this supposed to be for fun?

Well yeah. But like I said before, I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I just like a challenge. I think I kept climbing and pushing myself because this fear was something to concur. Also, I could see tons of people around me having a normal, fun time on the wall—taking whips and everything!

Me enjoying an upward whipper on a project in the Red this past season. Photo by Tim Spanagel.

It gets better

I wish I could say that now because of some intense meditation program I’m 100% better and I’m basically a monk now and climbing never gets scary anymore (see my face above), but that isn’t true. Climbing is fun, but it is still a scary sport.

I think I had a major breakthrough when I spent two weeks straight sport climbing in Rodellar, Spain. What really did it was just continually getting back on the horse. I had a few freak outs on that trip, but taking falls every day and continually being exposed to the kind of heights that I found so scary was critical to diminishing my fears.

Lauren Abernathy Rodellar Climbing
Me working my project on the last day of my trip to Spain. I fell so many times, but I bagged the send before I left. It was my second 11a ever.

It is definitely not easy, but I think any time you want to shy away from a route, or “just top rope it”, you actually need to go ahead and lead it. You have to face your fears and maybe some day the fears will go away, or at least become way more manageable.

Practical Tips to Help your Head Game

Here are a few specific things that I have done to help me get over my mental hump in climbing.

  1. Take warmup falls on lead in the gym. I take super small falls to get used to the sensation. Somtimes I make myself whip. I also made it a point to climb until failure in the gym sometimes—this isn’t really training advice as constantly redlining isn’t helpful, but the idea still stands. You need to get good at “going for it” in the gym and falling so that you can take this comfort outside with you.
  2. Practicing clipping on the ground. I noticed that whenever I didn’t quickly get the clip in, it would escalate my nervousness when climbing. If this is something you suffer with as well, practice clipping smoothly while hanging out at the crag (on the ground, of course). Being more efficient at clipping will help your climbing and your mental game too.
  3. Pre-climb mantras. Sometimes I pick a phase to repeat in my head to clear my thoughts before I start climbing. I’ll repeat phrases like “I trained for this and I can do it.” Or “You know what to do.” Or even simple things like “being above bolt is fun”. I’ve learned to consciously choose to relax and focus to avoid letting my head get carried away.
  4. If you can top rope it, you can lead it. So hop on the sharp end and start clipping.

Me enjoying my day out in Rumney, NH.
I took whips all day on my project this fall and didn’t panic or cry once.

You Can Win the Head Games Too

Over my time as a climber I have progressed from top rope panic attacks to taking surprise whips and laughing it off. Climbing with anxiety may take a little extra effort. Some people with anxiety may have an added challenge when taking the sharp end of the rope. But the confidence that comes with conquering fears on a cliff face are impactful. Now, when I’m faced with a parking garage I can remind myself “hey, you can do this. If you can whip 20 feet on lead and laugh about it, you can park this car too.”

Climbing Goals for 2019 from around the U.S.

I asked climbers from all over everywhere USA to submit your climbing goals for 2019 and received fifteen submissions from climbers of different ages and skill levels. I am very excited to share what these fifteen climbers have cooking up in 2019.

Mel and Ella Gravity Vault
This is mother-daughter power duo Mel and Ella from my local gym. The both kick some major butt!
Some couples goals from my buddies Nick and Kira out of Colorado!
Nick demonstrating that he really is ready to sink his teeth into training really hard next year.
The 2019 goals of Scott Gilroy–fellow Jersey boy, goofball and all-around crusher.
Scott Gilroy. This is the man who eats 5.13 for breakfast and also thinks he should wear more spandex doing it. Pictured above with his trusty sidekick, Reilly.
Mike Goals
This is my boyfriend Mike who takes nothing seriously except for maybe the routes he wants to take down next year. I am excited to head back to the Red and keep training with him, even though he won’t smile for a damn picture.
Lauren Abernathy 2019 Climbing Goals
I’m going for hardest redpoint this year, taking it from 11d to 12a and beyond. I want to do a lot of 12s too to get a solid foundation .With trips planned to Wyoming, Kentucky, Spain and the home crag of Rumney, NH, I’m psyched on climbing a diversity of 5.12 routes!
This is Jess from NJ. She and Scott are a power climbing couple. Jess has got her eye on some 5.12 volume and a pretty nasty tall V7 in the Gunks!
Adams Goals
Adam is an ambitious climber. His first climbing experience outside was deep water soloing in Mallorca–which is a pretty rowdy thing to do. Raddest panda I know.
This is Mike from California and here are the 2019 goals he submitted to me via email!
– Finish climbing all of the 5.12s in Malibu Creek (He’s done 18/25!)
– Do two 5.13s
– Boulder V9 or harder
This is Alisha from CA. I met her on a trip to Mallorca and she’s a super graceful climber! Wishing her well as she takes on knee surgery, but I know she will come back super strong and bag that 12c!
Mel Goals
Mel is headed to South Africa this year and he’s got an eye on a pretty sick boulder!
Nicole Goals
This is Nicole. She’s an Ohio buddy and a pretty rad lady looking to smash some V5 outdoors this year.
Mickey Goals
Mickey coaches the kids team at the Gravity Vault. When he isn’t teaching the little guys & gals to smash boulders, he’s doing it himself.
Steph Goals
Steph’s doing some life reorganization so she can go climbing more in 2019. Loving that measurable goal of an average of 3x per week. Steph crushes by the way, psyched to see her at the gym more often.
Mike D Goals
Mike is another valiant Gravity Vault kids team parent putting in time at the gym. His goal is to be injury free, which is probably the most practical goal on this list.

Thanks everyone for your submissions and for sharing what you are trying to accomplish this year. I am inspired by all of the motivated peolple I have the pleasure of interacting with.

If you have a goal and you would like to be featured in this post as well, please send me a picture of you holding up a legible sign with your 2019 goals. I am more than happy to add you!

Please send all photos to senderellastory@gmail.com

5 Reasons You Should Start Climbing in 2019

Why not make trying something new your goal for 2019? If you’re looking for a new hobby that will be amazing for nearly every facet of your existence, look no further than the great sport of rock climbing. Here are five reasons that climbing should be your new lifestyle choice in 2019.

1. Climbing is a fun way to get fit!

If you’ve had trouble in the past getting yourself into physical activity, it might be because a lot of physical activities suck. Running can be boring, lifting can be hard to do (especially if your local crunch fitness gets crowded in the evenings) and let’s be real, Hot Power Vinyasa Yoga in a 90 degree studio might make you want to puke.

Figuring out how to climb on a roof life a spider monkey is more interesting than running.

Climbing is an awesome workout. It helps you to build muscle, it is goal-oriented, and it is mentally involved so you don’t get bored while you do it. When you climb, you are trying to finish the route—which is a little more interesting than a bunch of push-ups.

2. You will meet new people

This year I moved from Ohio to New Jersey. Upon my arrival I had a handful of friends at my company, one buddy from college, and that’s about it. Want to know where I made friends first? The climbing gym. The climbing community at large is friendly, diverse, and in most cases extravagantly welcoming. If you want to make new friends, a climbing gym is a great place to start.

Me and my new friend Mel out on a day of bouldering at the Gunks a few weeks after we met at the local climbing gym in Hoboken. (My boyfriend Mike came adventuring too, but he’s behind the lens.)
Me on a trip where I didn’t know anyone except the head guide and my friend that came with me. We met so many new people and they were all so cool.

3. Getting out of your comfort zone is really important

Afraid of heights? Don’t like exercise? Scared to try something new? If you answered yes to any of those then you should make 2019 the year you conquer that limitation!

I was very afraid of heights when I started climbing. I have been seen crying on top rope on a thirty foot tall gym wall. CRYING. I’ve had to work on my fear of heights and I have mostly gotten over it. Now I take big whips and climb ropeless above the sea! You have to start somewhere and you have to get out of your comfort zone–or you’re going to miss out on the best things in life. Seriously.

Lauren Abernathy - Red River Gorge KY
Me taking a big fall at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.
Lauren Abernathy Porto Colom
Me reaching for my next hold a good bit above the water in Mallorca, Spain.

4. You might be motivated to eat better

I used to make nutritional resolutions all the time before I started climbing. I have a horrible sweet tooth so I would make goals like “try to only eat one sweet thing a day”, “no processed sugars on weekdays” and on and on. I was never really motivated to keep up with this because honestly feeling like I look good in a bikini isn’t really enough motivation for me to eat better. The desire to climb hard is way more motivating. If you fuel your body well, you climb better. My eating resolutions stuck a lot better once I got a real source of motivation. Eat better, climb harder. Simple as that.

5. You will explore new places outside and have fun with your friends!

Becoming a climber is a great way to get yourself outside with your friends. Instead of hitting the bar on the weekends, you’ll spend Saturday night sitting around a campfire after an awesome day out with your buddies. It doesn’t get much better than that. Quality time spent outdoors with friends and loved ones is priceless. Here are some of the cool places that climbing has taken me in just the past year and a half.

Red River Gorge Climbers
Red River Gorge, KY
Lauren Abernathy Rumney NH
Rumney, NH
Cala Barques Mallorca
Mallorca, Spain
Miller Fork Recreational Preserve
I used to basically live at the Red River Gorge with these guys on weekends.
Senderella story CO
Evergreen, CO with friends from college.
Red Rock Nevada
Red Rock, Nevada

Climbing changed my life in so many ways. I cannot recommend it enough and it is never too late to start. So what are you waiting for!? 2019 is the year you start climbing, so grab a friend or two and get out there!

How to train with a Moonboard

I have climbed twice since Thanksgiving. Apart from a couple of training sessions the last week in November, I haven’t climbed at all in about three weeks.

Scary, huh? I assumed that when I went back to training that I’d feel weak, and fat and that I’d regret taking a break. Turns out the break was worth it–and so was tossing my generally healthy eating habits aside for a couple of weeks. You bet I slammed some pie over Thanksgiving, and I just got back from Hawaii. Lots of hiking and swimming—and drinking to celebrate our conquests. Life is to be lived. You can’t be light all the time.

But between some nagging finger twangs and life in general, a break was much needed. However, I am here to tell you that taking a big break was GREAT IDEA and very useful. I am fine, and climbing just as well as I was before. Sweet!

I hit the Moonboard today and had my best session ever—without any funny feelings in my wrist or fingers. These joints were getting to be painful after my trip to the Red and I could tell that I was on a one way street to really injuring myself if I didn’t give it a rest.

After some time for rest and reflection, I have decided to integrate the Moonboard into my training for the winter. Mostly for limit bouldering purposes since the benchmark V3 and V4 problems on it kick my butt. More on that later. Let’s start with the basics. 

What is a Moonboard?

A Moonboard is a training tool for climbers, first and foremost. It was invented by UK-based climber Ben Moon.  It is a wooden board with a bunch of holds in pre-prescribed positions, set at a 40 degree angle. The grades are stiff and the holds are mostly bad. There is an LED light above each hold and you can connect your phone to the board using the Moonboard App.

The app allows you to light your chosen problem up on the board. You can choose from thousands of problems grades V3-V-Insane that cimbers from all over the world are working and setting. Pretty sweet.

What the app looks like on your phone.

Why use a Moonboard?

I love my home gym, don’t get me wrong. However, I sense some grading inconsistencies in the gym—mostly dependent on the setter. I get it, if you’re 6’4” and climb V13 outside, your version of V4 and my version of what I think is V4 might be different. Understandable. One of the many benefits of the Moonboard is that it offers the ability to go back to the same problem session after session, year after year. As long as the board remains, the route is available. Instead of hiking out to your old project, to check your progress as a climber, you can benchmark your progress with a route inside—pretty cool.

In addition to the consistency, there are so many problems to choose from. You can tweak exactly how hard you want your limit problems to be, with the swipe of your finger on the app. This is great since finding the right limit problem from your gym’s set can really be a pain sometimes.

Climbing Magazine has a sweet article about how to train with a Moonboard and I agree with just about 100% of it. Give it a read. A lot of that article is echoed in what I have laid out here as well.

This is how I limit boulder on the Moonboard:

Warmup: (5 minutes of running, 10 minutes of dynamic stretching)

Climbing warmup: Do about 15 problems. A pyramid of 6-8 V1s, 3-5 V2s, a few V3s.

Hard climbing warmup: Spend 30-45 minutes projecting two or three V4 or V5 routes. At least one of these is on a steep overhang to prepare for the angle. I rest for 3-5 minutes between attempts on these “doable if I try it a few times” routes.

Hangboard warmup:  I am terrible at pinches and slopers. These are my greatest weakness. The Moonboard has a lot of these holds which is AWESOME for training. I spend a few minutes warming up these two grips on the hangboard before embarking onto the Moonboard session since I am not so great at these types of holds. This is optional but I think it helps. 

7-10s hangs, 3 reps on each hold (wide pinch and sloper). My gym has the rock prodigy hangboard, so I do bodyweight hangs on this. Note that for the pinches I alternate between hanging on my right hand and my left hand—one hand on the pinch, the other on the jug. See below.  


I am not yet strong enough to bodyweight hang on the pinches on this board—I will be someday though! I also warmup briefly on the slopers.

Learn more about the Rock Prodigy hangboard and its inventors on the Anderson Brother’s Website.

Limit Bouldering: Two “benchmark” V3s.
*Note that the hardest project I’ve sent in my gym is V6 and I can only really work V3 on the benchmark Moonboard problems. Often these V3s leave me getting chucked off the first move for a few tries. It is not easy. If you cannot climb V5-V6 in the gym, I would not recommend spending too much time on the Moonboard just yet.

Lauren Abernathy Moonboarding fall
Me falling off the first move of a “benchmark V3”–repeatedly, I might add.

I do 5-6 attempts per problem.

I rest at minimum 3 minutes between attempts. If I fell off the first move, I rest 3 minutes. If I fell after almost sending, I increase the rest to 5 minutes, sometimes I even rest for 6-7 minutes. Note that most of these routes I am not even close to sending until I have worked them for a few sessions. This makes them “limit” problems. 

If the moonboard doesn’t bring out your ugliest try-hard face then I don’t know what will.

Once I am falling of the first or second move, even with a long recovery, I call it quits. Once my power is dissipated, the session is complete.

Is the Moonboard tough on your skin?

In short–YES. The Moonboard is definitely rough on the skin. My hands are usually in some skin-related pain by the end of the session. I am working on alleviating this, however. Sanding down your calluses is always a good idea, but here is another option/additive to your climbing skincare routine. 

Today I experimented with exfoliating my hands mid-session, after warming up and before hitting the board. Sounds crazy, but it felt awesome. I went into the bathroom in the gym and used a gritty, exfoliating face scrub.

I like to use L’Oreal Paris’s Pure Sugar Scrub (FYI L’Oreal is my employer so I get to try a lot of L’Oreal products at a minimized cost to me. I like this stuff a lot, but please take my opinion with a grain of salt.)  Just find something gritty and try it out. I thought it felt great and it prevented some potential flappers. The coffee smell is also pretty nice!

Rest after Moonboarding

I need at least 24 hours for my skin to recover after moonboarding. 1-2 days of rest, depending on who you are is probably a good idea if you really dissipated yourself during a moonboarding session. 

Have you ever used a Moonboard? Does your gym have one? What problems have you worked on?! Leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts on this awesome (and sometimes frustrating training tool). 

Cheers,

Senderella

9 Things you can learn from not sending your project

This past fall I took on my first somewhat “long-term” project in my new crag with a new style in beautiful Rumney, NH.

I say long term because anything else that I’ve “worked” has taken a maximum of six tries—and no more than two or three working days on it.

This route however; was my own personal version of “epic-ing”. I would go to sleep at night rehearsing the beta. In my head, I was in my own documentary. Here’s a brief synopsis of how this route didn’t go down.

Me deciding that my taped fingers and actively bleeding hands were ready to throw in the towel on my last weekend getting after it.

Weekend 1:

Tried the route on Sunday. Was able to do the crux on my first try (with ample resting and figuring out in between). Tried the route again—belay kept getting messed up.

Basically I put in one moderately acceptable burn to learn the beta and the second burn got a little mucked up because of some belay issues.

First attempt on Orangahang, 5.12a

Weekend 2:

Saturday – tried it two more times. Clipped the chains with two hangs on attempt #3. First time clipping the chains a 5.12–pretty satisfying.

Sunday – tried route again. Basically the same as before. Did super poorly on Sunday and climbed the first few bolts like garbage. I was shaky and felt terrible about the whole thing.

Weekend 3:

I must have tried the route 15-20 times that weekend. I stopped counting by the end the first 4 bolts were laced up perfectly. I would fall at the crux between 4 and 5, jug up and could finish from there. I was basically doing that over and over again until my fingers were literally too bloody to go on.

So there’s the synopsis. Even though I didn’t get it, it was totally worth my time. I learned so much from the process. See below for some solid take aways that you can learn from not sending your project.

  1. The importance of a quality beta burn.
    Dialing in the beta swiftly and early in the process is critical, I have learned. Honestly, I probably could have cut my first two weekends of attempts out of this process if I had done what I did at the start of the third weekend. In one go on the rope, I rehearsed some of the sections of the route 3-4 times until I knew exactly where my feet would go. I experimented. I learned how to make certain moves WAY more efficiently than I had before. I dialed in where I was going to clip. It was HUGELY useful.
  2. Getting to the crag early to do your beta burn can be valuable.
    On popular routes, you may be uncomfortable taking a long time to learn and rehearse the beta with others waiting. It sucks for them to wait and it sucks for you to have to rush such a crucial process. No matter how cold or dewy or whatever, just go get your route rehearsal/beta dialing session done before everyone else shows up. I never got to take my time with this process until we rolled up on weekend 3 which had a sub-optimal forecast, thus thinning the crowds.
  3. You might not need all the clips.
    Clips are sometimes optional—even if it’s the second clip. Some clips might be slowing you down, akward etc. Think about if there are any that you can safely and confidently bypass. Personally, by the time I had the beta dialed, I realized that clipping the second bolt was a waste of time and energy, so I just stopped clipping it. It felt good to be comfortable doing that and for this route it was generally safe to do. This may not be true for other routes, but it’s a tactic that has been used by many to conserve energy if it is safe to do so.

    Second clip is definitely the worst to clip. See above.
  4. What foods work well when you’re trying to send.
    I learned that eating a large breakfast doesn’t work for me. On the Sunday of weekend two, I ate a HUGE breakfast before going climbing—it kept me warm and it was delicious, but I was way too full to be climbing hard. The third weekend I made sure to keep it lighter—PB&J steel cut oats. That worked much better for me than a big, heavy breakfast.

    A chicken joining me for breakfast at the camp site.
  5.  How your environment effects you when you’re trying to send
    I learned that crowds FREAK ME OUT and that strangers watching me climb is actually really stressful for me. I know I need to work through this, but I hadn’t become aware of this until now. Not much to be done about it, but I’m glad I know now so I can consciously work through it. The difference between me climbing at an empty crag vs. a full one was pretty astounding. 
  6. Your ideal pre-climb ritual. See mine below!
    Step 1: Jam out to an aggressive rap song. “Shabba” was the song of choice on this trip. I also can be found enjoying “it’s nothin”, “Switch Lanes” by Tyga and “All Gold Everything”. Tell me I have awful taste, but it’s what gets me AMPED.
    Step 2: Walk up to the route, tie, in and take three big breaths.
    Step 3: Pick something in the distance to focus on and zone out.
    Step 4: Tell myself “You know what to do, stop thinking and climb.”
    I started doing this before every attempt, and it was really nice to have a routine before starting to climb.
  7. You can learn your capacity limit.
    Having the capacity to try a route a bunch of times is very important. If you picked a route that you can’t burn all day if you have to, it might be time to work something else. I thought that I might have bitten off more than I could chew, but when put to the test, I was able to put in 8-10 burns a day on my project. But it was good to learn that I had trained well and had the capacity to put in work. See below for some solid wisdom from climbing trainer, Steve Bechtel in an article from Climbing Magazine.
    “Many climbers are incapable of trying a project-level route more than once or twice a day. This is unacceptable. You have limited years to climb, so maximize your time.” 

    Me chilling out, resting up , and prepping to tape my bloody fingers between afternoon burns.
  8. How much rest you need.
    Resting properly and not overtraining during the week is very helpful. Before the my last epic weekend working on the proj, I gave myself two rest days and training on Wednesday was super light. This was mostly because I was exhausted from work, but still.  I was very well rested for the weekend and I could totally tell. From now on, I’m giving myself two full rest days before trying to redpoint/ get sendy on anything.
  9. The impact of an awesome climbing partner.

    Me and the best belayer in the whole wide world.

    I have an amazing supportive boyfriend who is willing to belay me on these climbing tirades. Mike barely climbed all weekend. I kept saying we could bail and that he should go work on something, but he wouldn’t. He said all he wanted out of the weekend was for me to send this thing. Mike was on point with the beta cues, encouragement for me to try hard, and provided ample stoke and belief in me. I am so so grateful to have a climbing partner (and a boyfriend) that is so unwaveringly supportive.

All in all, yes, it is a bummer that after all of this, I still didn’t send. But I have the route down to one hang and I know that with a little more training, I will be more than ready to take this thing down in the spring for sure.

Review of Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression: Halfway there

Logical Progression refers to the simple progression we make in a nonlinear plan. By training strength, then power, and then endurance in sequence, you’ll see that you truly can develop all of these facets of your fitness at the same time, and perform better year-round.

With this book as your guide, I hope that you’ll embrace a different way of looking at training, and performing, in climbing.

– Steve Bechtel, Logical Progression

At the time this is being published I am halfway through Steve Bechtel’s Logical Progression Program. I was a little scared to try a new program for the ever-important Fall Climbing Season, but so far I am very glad I did. In seven weeks I’ve seen a noticeable impact to my climbing. Read on to see if you think this program would be helpful for you!

General Overview

To summarize the book and program, Steve Bechtel has designed a program around concurrently training strength, power/strength endurance, endurance,  and power. For an explanation of non-linear periodization, click here. You rotate through training days, working a different facet of training each day (e.g. in 5-7 day time frame you would have done a strength, endurance, power endurance, and limit bouldering workouts).

A problem from a limit bouldering session at the Triangle Rock Club  when I was visiting family in North Carolina.

Steve offers a few different options for the program orientation. I went with the “Level 1” program as it is the most entry-level option and geared toward climbers that are new (or new-ish) to training. The Level 1 program also has the most simplistic setup, which sounded good to me.

Below is a general overview of the training sessions I’ve completed over the course of 7 weeks.

  • 6 Endurance Workouts
  • 7  integrated strength workouts
  • 6 Limit bouldering sessions
  • 6 power endurance sessions

Although there were some hiccups here and there, I think I did a good job of not skipping certain training days in favor of others–something Steve warns about in the book.

Overall impression of Logical Progression Program

So far I am really enjoying the variety that the program has to offer. Training all facets of climbing concurrently has been really amusing and it’s been pretty easy to stay psyched on training.

I still have six-seven more weeks to go, so we’ll see if it gets harder to stay stoked, but I’m thinking it won’t.

The structure/flexibility of the program is great. In the past month I have moved to a new city, moved apartments twice (long story), started a new job, started this blog, and have still managed to train and avoid stressing about making training work with my schedule. So from a strategic standpoint, this program is ideal for the average weekend warrior.

Adventures of moving into a new apartment!

I was pretty nervous to switch from the Rock Prodigy program, but Steve Bechtel is the man and I decided to give it a shot. So far, the results have been noticeable and I’m pretty psyched about it.

Hangboard Results

First of all, I like that Steve recommends that you switch up the hangboard protocol halfway through the program. I feel like there are so many protocols claiming to be “the best”, so it’s refreshing to have a trainer claim that threre is more than one way to hangboard.

So far, I have only completed the 3-6-9 ladder portion of the hangboard program, so I will speak to the results of this.

When I first read through the first part of the hangboard program, my first thought was “how the hell are my fingers going to get stronger if I’m spending only 3 minutes PER WEEK hanging on them.”

The proof is in the pudding. My finger strength improved measurably. See beginning, middle and end below.

Workout #1*:
Open hand, 20mm, Bodyweight (BW)
Half crimp, 20mm edge, BW
Full crimp, 30mm edge, BW
*note that I was taking it a easy on this day because it was my first time back on a hangboard in a while

Workout #3:
Open hand, 25mm, BW +15lbs
Half crimp on 25mm edge, BW+15 lbs
Full crimp, 20mm, BW

Workout #6:
Open hand, 15mm, BW +13lbs
Half crimp on 15mm edge, BW+13 lbs
Full crimp, 15mm, BW

If you want to attribute this to “newbie gains”–you really can’t, because I’ve done 30+ hangboard workouts in the past year and a half (a la the Rock Prodigy program).

Integrated Strength Gains

Bechtel incorporates some climbing specific strength training into his program. He actually has an interesting structure for strength training called Integrated Strength. I don’t want to get too in the weeds about it, so read more about it here. Essentially you end up doing a hangboard exercise, a lift, and a mobility exercise right in a row. It is a very interesting approach.

Below I review some personal records from the integrated strength workouts:

Deadlift: 165lbs – 5 reps
Hanging leg raise: 6 reps
Weighted push-ups: 25lb plate, 5 reps
(I could NOT come even remotely close to doing the one arm, one leg push-up as recommended, so putting a plate on my back to up the intensity was my best option).

My deadlift increased by about 20lbs throughout the 6 workouts, push-ups didn’t go up by too much, but the hanging leg raises definitely got easier and improved in quality as I kept going. (Note that the try-hard face you see below is completely required, these BREAK ME.)

Power/Strength Endurance Results

Essentially, the power endurance workouts are 3 sets of 6 boulder problems that are right around your limit–leaving only 2 minutes or so between problems for recovery.

Bechtel recommends an interesting method of quantifying these workouts. Basically, you add up the grade of all the routes and take the average of these. He calls this your v-score or v-average.

Below I compare my average v-score from my best strength endurance circuit in my first workout to that of my final workout. Note that the rest between problems from the first workout was about 2 minutes. In my most recent PE workout I’ve reduced the rest to 1 minute.

Session 1:  Average V-score = 3
Session 3: Average V-score = 3.9
Session 6: Average V-score = 4.2

Essentially, I’ve gone from doing  6 boulder problems with V3 and V4 problems, to doing sets with V4 and V5 problems with less rest in between.

Noteable Ascents – Indoors and Outdoors

Putting in my first attempt on Orangahang, 5.12a

  • First 5.12 indoors – flashed it
  • Regularly Flashing 11+ (in the gym)
  • First V6 indoors
  • Able to work the moves/complete the crux on Orangahang, 5.12a in Rumney (new project–very psyched about it)
  • Flashed Waimea, 5.10d in Rumney–I’ve onsighted 10d before, but if feels good to do it in a new crag with a style different from the Red. It also felt pretty easy which was cool.

Flashing Waimea, 5.10d (also peep the guy a couple routes over about to send his project, graded 14c!)

These halfway point results are substantial from my perspective. I look forward to continue putting in work on Orangahang and other project and am very excited to see where this program takes me.

More to come, overall I’d highly recommend the program based on my half-way-there results.

Cheers,

Senderella

Two classic, effective ways to improve footwork for climbing

The worst whip I’ve ever taken resulted in two staples in the back of my head. Why did I fall? My foot blew!

Footwork is very important in climbing–debatably the most important aspect of your technique. Practicing good footwork can make or break your ascents (and maybe even your head).

So what can be done to specifically target footwork improvement? Let’s find out!

I went scouring the internet and my climbing reference books to find some groundbreaking drill that is fun, exciting, convenient, and will cure inefficient footwork for life. I found no such thing.

What I did find (and have my own experience with) are the two drills below. They are widely recommended because they are simple and effective. If you haven’t heard of them, try them out this week and see what you think!

  1. Silent feet – When climbing practice silent foot placement. Ensure that the feet are placed carefully and quietly. When feet are placed silently, they are placed accurately. If the toe gently lands on the chip, and sticks, that one movement is all you need and then you move on. It is meticulous. It is efficient.
  2. Downclimbing – most of climbing is done looking up,  leading with your hands. When you downclimb, your feet lead and the weight is on the toes. Make sure that when you do it, you climb as carefully down as you do up. It can be strange at first, but you get used to it.

The best way to practice these drills is to do so when you warm up. Hop on some easy boulders to warm up for your day of climbing, climb carefully with silent feet and climb down the routes as well.

Here’s a video that I think illustrates this super well (skip about a minute in if you don’t care about what literature pro climbers are reading–feel free to watch if you do!)

I hope you enjoyed your weekly dose of climbing technique. For the betterment of myself and others I’ll be bringing you a technique tip every Tuesday for Technique Tip Tuesday! I’m a sucker for alliterations.

See you next time!

Senderella